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I’m not that geeky, really: (l-r) Cera and Doubleday in Youth in Revolt.

Cause Without a Rebel

By Laura Leon

Youth in Revolt

Directed by Miguel Arteta

 

Ah, to be a teen again, suffering through the angst evoked in favorite rock songs or, if you’re Nick Twisp (Michael Cera) in Youth in Revolt, movies like La Strada and a shelf full of classic lit. The underlying goal to this suffering, of course, is love, or, in Nick’s case, getting laid, which, in his mind, apparently amounts to the same thing once he catches a glimpse of lissome Sheeni (Portia Doubleday) en route to the trailer-park showers. Yes, I mention such details because they mean something in Miguel Arteta’s interpretation of C.D. Payne’s popular book.

Instantly smitten, Nick sets about trying not to be so geeky, especially once Sheeni makes it clear that she’s got a boyfriend who speaks perfect French and writes futurist percussive poetry. At this point, early on, we realize that Nick hasn’t really read all those great books in his room, nor has he plumbed the depths of Fellini’s works, but he earnestly wants to do so. Such wannabe-isms float the trifle that is Youth in Revolt. Nick ends up developing an alter ego, François Dillinger, who smokes and sports a caterpillar mustache, wears topsides sans socks and altogether looks like the Marlboro Light man. Only Nick can see or hear François as he encourages him to set fire to his mother Estelle’s (Jean Smart) car or force the issue of shared dormitory sleeping arrangements with Sheeni.

Nick’s parents are self-involved—dad George couldn’t be bothered with the boy, and Estelle expends her limited energies ensuring whatever man she’s got in bed stays interested. “You’re selling yourself short, mom,” Nick tells her, when she explains that it’s hard for 48-year-olds with a kid and stretch marks to get a guy—and at first we think, how thoughtful of him. As the movie progresses, however, we realize that not only does he not mean it, but it’s true as well. Sheeni’s parents, played by M. Emmett Walsh and Mary Kay Place, are stand-ins for all things limited and small-minded in indie films—which is to say, Christian—and Arteta has fun doing close-ups of Walsh, his character felled by magic mushrooms, schmearing potatoes all over his face. In comparison, Sheeni’s drugged-out brother Phil is presented as edgy and cool in the way that Nick can’t even dream of becoming.

Arteta shows some flair, especially in the stop-action animated sequences, as when Nick and an Indian classmate take a road trip to see Sheeni and her slutty roommate. (It’s also a practical use of an apparently limited budget.)

Doubleday is convincing, blending sunny beauty with a glimmer of naughtiness, but one almost wishes she went further, dug deeper, kind of like Melanie Griffith in Something Wild (coincidentally, that movie’s costar, Ray Liotta, appears here, a potent visual warning to all of the dangers of hard living and plain old age). Cera continues to ply his sensitive, dorky everyguy persona; and although at times you see more, his François is too lightweight, never going quite far enough to spur Nick onto greater feats of derring-do.

Pure Evil

Daybreakers

Directed by the Spierig Brothers

The title of this nifty horror flick, Daybreakers, says everything you need to know about what writer-directors (and twin brothers) Michael and Peter Spierig feel about vampires—because it refers to humans.

These Australian filmmakers don’t give us a world of intoxicating, sexy bloodsuckers living uneasily among tantalized regular folks. Instead, it’s a creepily ordered, crypto-fascist Earth where vampires rule over—and hunt down—a dwindling number of humans. In other words, they’re the villains. When they’re not tearing into human flesh with gusto, the vampires take on the airs of a decadent elite, savoring the aroma of blood like wine connoisseurs and enjoying their blood-spiked morning lattes.

In one of many nice touches, the real power in this world is a pharmaceutical corporation, led by Charles Bromley (Sam Neill, oozing malevolence). The rapidly depleting human population is causing drastic supply problems—the poorer vampires are starving, with many turning into batlike things—and Bromley has his best scientist, Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), desperately trying to come up with a blood substitute. The hematologist isn’t happy about being a vampire (Hawke amusingly resurrects his glum, mid-’90s slacker persona), and is ripe for collaboration when a group of humans ask for help.

While the vampires are trying to find a blood substitute, the humans are searching for a cure for vampirism. (“What’s to cure,” a vamp asks sardonically.) Turns out there is a cure, as evidenced in the person of ex-vampire Lionel Cormac, aka “Elvis” (Willem Dafoe, who plays the character, quite effectively, as a dignified, crossbow-totin’ redneck.). It’s up to Dalton to figure out how the change happened.

Is the explanation kinda dumb? Yes. This is a horror film. But it’s dramatically neat.

The film is clearly low-budget, and some things they try—The Matrix-style “human farm,” for example—are unimpressive. But lack of money has its benefits, too. When it comes to violence, there’s nothing fancy: The feeding frenzies are primal and fake-blood brutal. The production design has to rely on small details, like the enclosed walkways between skyscrapers, to present a world where most inhabitants can’t face the sun.

The filmmakers maintain the rules of the darkly appealing world they’ve created, which is a great virtue in the horror genre. The plot twists have unexpected resonance, and the ending nicely bookends the elegant, horrifying opening. Kudos to the Spierigs for bringing some narrative order to a vampire-besotted cinematic world.

—Shawn Stone


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